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Home » Reparations » Transitional Justice

Transitional Justice

Transitional justice refers to the set of judicial and non-judicial measures that have been implemented by different countries in order to redress the legacies of massive human rights abuses. These measures include criminal prosecutions, truth commissions, reparations programs, and various kinds of institutional reforms.

Transitional justice is not a ‘special’ kind of justice, but an approach to achieving justice in times of transition from conflict and/or state repression. By trying to achieve accountability and redressing victims, transitional justice provides recognition of the rights of victims, promotes civic trust and strengthens the democratic rule of law.

States have a legal duty to acknowledge and address widespread or systematic human rights violations, in cases where the state caused the violations or did not seriously try to prevent them.

Any country which attempts to establish accountability for past abuses of human rights during the process of democratization faces political, judicial, and ethical problems. With regard to politics, the question of which transitional justice measures are appropriate, functional, and feasible has to be decided for every individual case. A judicial approach has to decide which judicial standards to apply and how to justify prosecution. Finally, the ethical dilemmas of dealing with historical injustices have to be understood. There are no ready-made concepts to define guilt and justice.

In many cases it is even difficult to tell the victims from the perpetrators. This study examines the different strategies subsumed under the term ‘transitional justice’ used by emerging democracies to deal with a legacy of human rights abuses. It explores the problems and challenges posed by different mechanisms of reconciliation and societal reintegration. While existing analyses of the contribution that transitional justice measures make to the process of social re-integration stress the importance of consensus among citizens and social groups for the emergence of trust and solidarity, this study suggests also thinking about how conflicts over competing ‘truths’ can help to build social capital and reconciliation. Noting a global diffusion of international legal norms, which means at least formal universal acceptance of basic rights and judicial procedures, it is argued that international justice cannot be a substitute for transitional justice measures taken by the domestic regime itself.

Reparations initiatives seek to address the harms caused by these violations. They can take the form of compensating for the losses suffered, which helps overcome some of the consequences of abuse. They can also be future oriented—providing rehabilitation and a better life to victims—and help to change the underlying causes of abuse.

Reparations publicly affirm that victims are rights-holders entitled to redress.

Linking reparations to other forms of recognition, justice and guarantees of non repetition—as recommended by the United Nations Basic Principles on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation—can also contribute to their effectiveness.

Principal Resource: ICTJ

ICTJ plays a leading role in researching and advising reparations efforts. It believes reparations initiatives that follow from meaningful consultation with victims have the best chance of being fair and effective. Read more at: ICTJ

Read more about:
Remedy and Reparation for Victims
The concept of reparations



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